Ash Wednesday – Motivation by Shame or Heart

There are two forms of motivation; shame and heart.  Shame motivates through the fear of humiliation.  Heart motivates through the true love and desire to do something.  It is a Catholic tradition to give up something for Lent.  Giving up something motivated by shame is a burden and difficult because it is not truly what is desired.  When a person is motivated by shame they seek to avoid humiliation.  Their actions are not directed towards their true desires.  On the other hand, giving up something motivated by heart is not the same kind of burden because it is an act of devotion and the act itself is desired.

The readings for Ash Wednesday describe this.  Joel 2:12 reads:

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning; Rend your hearts, not you garments and return to the Lord, your God.

God does not want praise that is motivated by shame.  God wants authentic, whole-hearted praise.  Likewise, the true self is never motivation by shame because the true self can only act authentically.  It is the ego that is motivated by shame and acts inauthentically.  In truth, both God and the true self desire motivation by heart because they are the one and the same and they are the heart.

Matthew 6:6 reads:

When you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your father in secret; and your father who sees in secret, will reward you.

Who is this “father who sees in secret”?  I would say, of course, it is God but it is also the true self.  It is the true self that knows truth and knows your true desires and therefore acts authentically.  The true self does not act motivated by shame.

When I was young I felt compelled to give something up because I thought I would be a bad person if I did not.  My motivation was shame.  I did not understand the readings.  I don’t think the people instructing me in my religion understood the readings either because they were all motivated by shame.  People motivated by shame seek to pass their shame on to others.  They believe this is morality.  They believe shame binds and upholds civilization.  But if participation in religion is to have any meaning or saving power it cannot be by shame.  It cannot be done half heartedly and inauthentically.  It has to be whole-hearted and authentically.  Organizations can be held together through shame but shame can never be as powerful a binding agent as heart.  Furthermore, shame takes all the joy out of life.  On the other hand, acting with heart creates joy and is its own reward.

And so I enter Lent whole heartedly.  I give up my vices because I truly want to live free of them.  I want to glorify God, my true self, my father who sees in secret.  It has taken me 43 years to get to this point.  I cannot regret that fact because regret is another form of shame and any form of shame is not aligned with the true self.

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